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By Ahmed Zarrouki

To accept one’s past, one’s history, is not the same thing as drowning in it, it is learning how to use it.James Baldwin

The 1700 page-long report reveals the truth of the multi-layered and intricate system of oppression and corruption that was in place in Tunisia for 60 years. In some cases, the report exposes the chain of command behind grave human rights violations and how networks of corrupt individuals diverted public funds and lands for their benefit.

Publication in the Official Gazette is in itself a long overdue acknowledgment of the need to address human rights violations of the past in order to avoid their repetition in the future. This marks another hard win for transitional justice in Tunisia and represents another significant milestone.

According to Article 70 of the Transitional Justice Law, the government has one year from the date of the report’s publication to develop and adopt an action plan to implement the recommendations to the end of guaranteeing that the abuses do not happen again. The same article stipulates that the action plan must be submitted to parliament to create a monitoring commission to follow up on the implementation plan.

This report is a thrilling read by all means!

I for one consider it to be an invaluable historic document that sheds light on what school history books do not say about the last 60 years in Tunisia’s history. The report’s findings are crucial to identifying the type of reforms needed for a country that is still finding its way to eradicate corruption and install an uncompromising rule of law.

General recommendations presented in the report start with a call for a symbolic apology by the Head of State to the Tunisian people for the grave human rights violations committed between 1956 and 2013. It tasks the Head of Government with ensuring reparations for the victims through the creation of a reparations fund, and also calls for collective reparation for historically marginalized regions. The institutional reforms laid out in the recommendations include, among other things, enhancing the independence of the judiciary, reforming the justice sector, enhancing transparency in governance, fighting discrimination on many levels, and fighting corruption.

However, the value of the report will only be realized if its findings lead to achieving criminal accountability.

Among the most important recommendations are those relating to the work of the specialized criminal chambers, created in 2018 to prosecute the cases of serious human rights violations. For these chambers to be able to prosecute perpetrators of the past, the government must ensure that security sector members cooperate with judicial authorities and that judges, victims and witnesses are protected from any act of intimidation or reprisal. The trials that have started, after referral from the IVD, include cases of enforced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, death under torture, unfair trials and arbitrary detention, excessive use of force against peaceful protestors and killings of peaceful protestors during the 2010-2011 uprising. These trials are the last chance for victims to obtain justice and for their family members to know the truth about what happened and see those responsible held accountable.

Over the past several years, the work of the IVD has faced strong resistance from previous governments and parliament who failed to comply with the transitional justice law on many levels. The trials before the specialized criminal chambers continue to face resistance from the security sector, as the main security force unions in Tunisia continue to refuse to cooperate, claiming in various statements that these trials are vindictive and aim to weaken security forces, and calling for legislative reform to stop them. The Ministry of the Interior has also been reluctant to implement requests by courts to summon alleged perpetrators to these trials.

With the report’s long-awaited publication finally realized, the new governing coalition seems to have shifted the government’s official stance towards the transitional justice process, moving from outright hostility to a more positive outlook. However, mere political will from the government is not sufficient to achieve justice and reparation for victims of the past regime and ensure non-repetition.

The reforms and accountability measures recommended by the IVD are an enormous undertaking and the executive, legislative and judicial branches all have to cooperate to make it happen. Another challenge is that parliament, which is required to monitor government’s implementation of recommendations presented in the report, is itself highly fragmented and includes many members who speak vehemently against the IVD and its work.

All these stakeholders must come together and step up to maintain the process and achieve justice and real human rights changes. Are they up to the task?